The Delicate Balance for Women Executives


If you are a Sarah Jessica Parker fan (like me!) you know the image above is from the Christmassy-Feministy-Rom-Com movie I Don't Know How She Does It.  

In the film (which includes a glorious scene where SJP "distresses" a store-bought pie to keep up with the non-working moms) our girl is forced to balance family and career, while struggling to get acknowledgement from the Private Equity company where she works. 

And while this is an interesting and delicate balance, this is not the most important balance that I think women face in the work place.  There's another one-- the value balance-- that I think is even more tricky to master. 

This balance occurred to me last week.  I interviewed a very impressive woman in business development for my team, but after the interview I realized that she had not yet mastered the Value Balance.  And so, while I believe she is extremely talented, I just don't think we will have a good working relationship going forward, and can't extend an offer. 

I have no idea if this is going to come off as anti-feminiest, but that is not my intention.  I'm a card carrying woman who left a global firm because women's resumes weren't being equally represented to clients.  I came up with a flat fee model as a way to fight for #equalpay, so I think I have a little feminist street cred.  (And if I don't have that, I do still have a LilithFaire ticket stub, for what it's worth). 

So here's the trap with the Value Balance.  

Women are often expected to do a ton of things for FREE at the beginning of their career.  

Let me give you an example.  Everyone is on the same sales team. There is one woman.  Client thank you gifts need to go out and the last step is to get a quick card written to each client--- Guess who has the "best handwriting?"  the woman. And guess who stays up late to get the project done....

There is an implicit bias, I don't know why, that women are working for "extra cash"  and not for their living.  And so, often they are given lower splits in commission, or asked to work as perpetual assistants even when they're doing their boss's job.  Now, this doesn't happen all the time. But I bet EVERY female executive can site one instance where this happened early on in their career.     

I remember one time, when I was working for a global recruitment firm. I was the only female (and a top biller) in the office.  But my managing director asked me to cut up the fruit for a fruit salad he wanted to have at a meeting.  Girls can do it faster, I was told. 

Anyway, after the de-valuing of their time women react intelligently.  They want more protections upfront in their contracts, they want commissions guaranteed, they ask a million questions before getting into any projects.  As a woman I understand the instinct to protect the value of one's time. 

But last week, I oversaw an interview where the interviewee didn't even wait a beat to find out what  my company needed before she listed her "needs" in a company, and wanted to see if my company would measure up. 

Wait a second, what if she went on a first date and said, "Listen, I need to know if you will always have money, if you will keep your hair, and if you are willing to make dinner on Thursdays when I go to evening spin class?"  The date would totally bolt.  

And that's sort of what I did.  I understand the instinct to protect oneself after having your time devalued in the beginning of the career, but women won't advance in the workplace if they are actively pushing opportunities away by being too guarded. 

In my opinion, we should treat the interview process just like the beginning of any relationship. Go in with good faith.  I absolutely think women should make sure the contract works for them at the end of the process.  We should also negotiate hard for the salary and bonus structure we want, but offer a bit of trust at the beginning of the interview process.

This is where the Value Balance comes in.  As women in the workplace, and as PEOPLE in the work place, we must simultaneously balance our need to value our time while also remaining open to the extra risk needed to pursue a new opportunity that will move us forward.  If you balance your need for protection against time wasters and underpay-ers with your ability to engage in meaningful dialogue about future opportunities you can excel in the interview process.  Assume, just for one or two conversations, that the person hiring is going to value you and your time so that both of you can determine if the actual job functions are the right fit.  

You will be happy you did when the offers roll in.